By A.R. Royo
There is only one way to see all of Maui, or any of the other Hawaiian Islands, that is both spectacular and thrilling – with a Hawaii helicopter tour! And now finally, I was going to take one myself. Not only was this my first helicopter tour of Maui, but my first helicopter ride ever! So, naturally, I was curious just why this is such a popular Maui activity, and just how it works.
After parking and entering the office of Air Maui Helicopters about 45 minutes before flight time, I checked in by stepping up to the scale. Everyone is weighed then seated in an arrangement that best balances the load. So you might not sit next to your friend or family member, but who cares? You’ll be so busy watching the sights from a few thousand feet in the air you won’t notice anyway.
After a safety video and instructions, us 6 passengers, strapped on our un-deployed life jacket, which was a belly pack. Then we were carefully boarded by a ground crewman, one-by-on. Our American Eurocopter ASTAR seated 3 of us in the front row, with the pilot on the right, and either 3 or 4 in the back row, depending on passengers’ weight.
While it initially seemed a small space to accommodate all of us, this craft, with all forward-facing seats that offered unobstructed 180- degree views from every seat, turned out to provide a smooth and comfortable ride. It included air conditioning, leather seats and digital stereo music, piped through noise-reducing headsets. This is also how Rich our pilot communicated, pointing out the numerous sights during his excellent guided tour.
Once we were all seated and were given the go-ahead, Rich took us aloft and headed over the cane fields toward Pukalani upcountry. From there we turned right over Kula and around to the south flank of Mt. Haleakala, hovering over the Ridge trail until we popped above it’s 10,000-foot crest and peered down into the yawning “crater” of Haleakala volcano.
From there we headed east around the southern side of Maui, peering down first upon a desert landscape, then suddenly over the verdant green rainforest with numerous waterfalls as we swung around Maui’s eastern shore above the remote town of Hana.
From there we cotinued our counter-clockwise circle of the giant mountain volcano, over numerous wateralls and above the ribbon of Hana Highway where it meanders over Maui’s north shore.
Before I knew it, we were seeing signs of civilization again – the celebrity mansions of Kailua and Huelo, then familiar Hookipa Beach, Paia town, Baldwin Park, and suddenly our 45-minute tour was ending as we approached the heliport again.
I was very lucky to have experienced this tour, because I was squeezed in only due to a cancellation. Otherwise I would have had to wait a couple weeks for an available seat. It’s like this with all helicopter tours on all of the Hawaii Islands. So book your Maui helicopter tours at least 2 weeks in advance, or else you’ll miss out on this spectacular experience.